How to “Freshen up” your Stale Succession Planning Process

I recently asked readers to submit their burning leadership
development questions
. Those that get picked for a post will receive a free
copy of
my eBook.

This one just came in from Rebecca:

“Dan, I know I am
quite late entering this discussion, but I have a question. I am struggling
with how to take our established Succession Process to the next level. We have
been using the 9 box and Likely 5 process for a number of years, and I am
trying to figure out what is next and how to freshen up the process. Thanks!”

I picked this question because I just attended an event in
Boston called “Secrets of Succession”, a moderated panel discussion with a
CHRO, a succession planning consultant and executive coach, and a CEO and Board
member. There was also a room full of talent management practitioners, so it
was a lively dialog.

Here are a few “secrets” that I picked up that might help
those that already have mature succession planning processes, and are looking
for ways to take it to the next level. I’ll position them in the form of
questions that you can ask yourself to assess your process.

1. How strategic is
your process?

Are you just creating lists, charts, binders, etc…, or is
your senior leadership team really using the process as a way to prepare your
organization to address its current and future leadership requirements? For
example, if you are looking to expand into a new market, are your succession
and development discussions aligned towards achieving that goal?

2. Are your talent
review discussions getting more sophisticated?

Instead of just “can they step into a bigger job”, and “what
should their next job be” kind of discussions, is your senior team getting
better at really understanding the nuances of assessing potential and
leadership development? Are they learning how to develop specific leadership
competencies through targeted assignments and projects, and getting creative in
the way they do it?

3. How transparent is
your process?

Every time I attend one of these sessions, the topic of “to
tell or not to tell
” comes up. Each year, the trend seems to continue to
shift to “more” is better when it comes to how much you tell people. Organizations
used to be concerned about the reactions of those that were not chosen as “high
potentials”. Instead, they are finding out that those not chosen want to know
what it takes to be considered, and get even motivated with their own
development. Of course, there are always all kinds of exceptions and caveats,
but the benefits of “telling” has clearly outweighed any disadvantages.

4. How simple is your

“Simplicity” seems to have replaced transparency as the new
mantra these days. Are you still creating thick binders, and probably drowning
your executives in bureaucracy? I asked the panel what “simple” looks like to
them. One of them has completely done away with any documentation! To them, succession planning and development was
all about the discussion, decisions,
and actions taken.

5. Are you measuring
outputs, not just inputs?

Outputs are the end results of good succession planning and
development, i.e., the number of key positions filled with internal candidates,
retention of high potentials, etc… Inputs would be completed charts, 9 boxes,
development plans, etc…. It’s a shift in focus from “checking off the boxes” to
measuring results.

6. Who “owns” the
process: HR or your senior leaders?

I’m sure it’s no secret who the real owner should be – hint –
it’s not HR. What does CEO ownership look like? I described it in this post:
Does “CEO Commitment” to Leadership Development Really Mean?

I hope this gives readers some ideas how to take your
process to the next level. Note that none of these involve creating more
bells and whistles – in fact, just the opposite. When it comes to succession
planning and leadership development, there really are no new “secrets”. The
ones that do it well just treat it as a strategic imperative, and the ones that
don’t treat it as just another HR compliance exercise.

Rebecca, please send
me your email address if you would like a free book.